How much do we really want the average person to contribute to the newsgathering process, to politics and to the culture itself?" Bambi Francisco of MarketWatch asks.
I met La Bambi this week at the iHollywoodForum's Digital Media Summit in Hollywood's grand old Roosevelt hotel. She was on Michael Stroud's panel about "Citizen Journalism" alongside Leonard Brody, a founder of blogging aggregator NowPublic. With his rat-a-tat discourse, unshaven cheeks and thick thick glasses, Brody was perfectly cast as a humorless media revolutionary -- the blogging version of Leon Trotsky (this was iHollywood, after all). And he spoke like one too. In one memorably glib sentence, he announced the death of newspapers. Print news is history, he announced, with all the dialectical certainty of a reincarnated Trotsky. Finished. As dead as John Cleese's parrot. And what will replace them? Brody-Trotsky had the answer. Blogs, of course. Citizen blogs. The kinds of barely informed, amateur "journalism" that infects worthless sites like NowPublic.
The scary thing is that this kind of nonsense is seductive. Take La Bambi, for example, who should know better than flirt with Brody-Trotksyism. But, like a schoolgirl in the throes of an adolescent crush, she appeared infatuated by citizen journalism. In her MarketWatch piece, the wide-eyed La Bambi questions the value of established media. She describes Brody-Trotsky as "eloquent" and, sounding more like a bimbo blogger than an elite journalist, the MarketWatch correspondent refers to a "famous recent case at the New York Times" (Judy Miller?) which supposedly reveals the intrinsic unreliability of mainstream media. Oh yeah? Just like the James Frey scandal showed that all authors everywhere are liars or the George Bush idiot-presidency reveals that every politician in the history of mankind was a moron.
It gets worse, I'm afraid, quite a bit worse. To question the authority of experts, La Bambi lands her spaceship on Pluto. Yes, that's right -- Pluto. She argues that the reclassification of Pluto into a "dwarf-planet" should make us suspicious of scientific experts -- everyone, I guess, from Kepler, Galileo and Newton to Einstein and Steven Hawking:
For years, we were all led to believe what scientists -- presumably learned or at least smarter than the average Joe -- said about Pluto, which is that it was a planet. Now we're told that it's not true. Pluto is a "dwarf planet."
And then, inevitably, La Bambi retreats to a mindless relativism -- Web 2.0's dwarf logic -- in distinguishing between amateur and professional media:
"Indeed, it's different, but that doesn't mean it's false. It's just a different perspective."
A different perspective, eh, La Bambi? If you want perspective, why don't you acknowledge the central role of the Washington Post's Dana Priest and Anne Hull in exposing the scandal at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. This wasn't done in the cyberswamp by Brody-Trotsky's citizen reptile army. No, It was done by two professionally trained journalists, latter day Woodward-Bernsteins whose crusading journalism provided all American citizens with perspective.
So what is to be: Priest-Hull or Brody-Troksky? Newspapers or blogs? La Bambi or La Bimbo? Ignorant amateurs or informed journalists?
I dunno. It's all a matter of perspective, innit?